Admit it, you’re great at making decals. Your designs are unique, you’ve mastered skills with your cutter, and you’ve decided to do it. It’s time to take the step beyond hobbyist and start a business with your Cricut or Silhouette vinyl cutter.
Congratulations, this could be the first step to being your own boss, financial autonomy, or some extra spending cash each month. No matter what, it’s a big decision. Take a moment, pat yourself on the back, and gear up for a new set of challenges.
Where do you start?
When I decided to start a decal business in 2013, the real questions started to creep in… Who do I sell to? What should I sell? Where can I sell it? How do I find leads? What kind of marketing will pay the highest return for my efforts?
The bad news? These are real questions that must be answered if you’re hoping to turn a profit. The good news? The questions aren't that tough when you tackle them one by one. I’ve done it, and so have others with less skills and ambition than you.
The first thing you need to take on is your business strategy. You need to determine what kind of product you’re going to sell, the type of customers you're trying to reach, and how to find them.
Who and where are my customers?
There are two places where you can sell your vinyl products, locally and online. Unless you’ve decided to quit your full-time job, and you have the money to hire staff, you’ll want to choose just one to begin. Your goal should be to create a profitable business as soon as possible, that way you can reinvest those profits in your future growth.
In my experience, many new business owners lose sight of the power of profit. Most of us don’t have the luxury of getting financing from a bank or venture capital firm when we start, I know I didn’t.
If you can start getting profitable sales quickly, while foregoing a bit of that extra money in the beginning, the profit can be funneled into growth opportunities like new machinery, product lines, or marketing. Profit is king.
By breaking down the different groups we can sell to and understanding the places to find them for both local and internet based sales, you can gauge where to best put your valuable time and effort. A bit of strategy now can save you from wasting time, money, vinyl, and stamina down the road.
Local sales can be broken down into two segments, business to business (B2B) and business to customer (B2C). If you decide to be a local seller, it’s best to choose between one of these two segments.
These two groups don’t have much overlap in the things they purchase, or where you can market to them. The prudent business owner won’t waste their time chasing leads and throwing marketing money at clients they aren’t setup to help.
Business to Business –
Volume Sales - The goal here is to use the efficiency of producing in larger numbers to drive the cost you pay per item down. The larger the production run, the lower your cost for product and time per unit produced. This is the hardest work to get into for a new Cricut or Silhouette based business. The opportunities are fewer, and the client expectations are higher.
- A contract with the local government or school to produce shirts or signage.
- Annual event signage and marketing such as signage and t-shirts for the Susan G. Komen Foundation
- Often, contractual work can be completed in a single session. This means you can purchase from vendors in bulk, allowing you to negotiate lower material costs. You will also have less switching between vinyl colors or product lines, meaning you can get more done in less time. This leaves you with more time for other projects or marketing efforts.
- It’s going to be tough to get one of these contracts. Admittedly, I haven’t tried. It would be reasonable to expect that these opportunities in your community are already being served by someone else. If they aren’t, leap at the chance.
Custom Work – Custom work for business customers can be a great gig with huge upside. Businesses are willing to pay top dollar for quality, reliable work. You can work with businesses to help craft a brand identity, create awareness, and make promotional ads.
- If a business is just starting, you can offer a business launch starter pack. At minimum, you should include logo design, signage for a retail front, and installation.
- You can also offer company branded swag like t-shirts, cups, or mugs as an add-on. Each of these services can be standalone for new or existing businesses.
- Signage such as sandwich boards or yard signs.
- You are creating relationships with growing businesses. After your first successful transaction, you become their point of contact for future business branding, decals, awareness materials, and even graphic design. This relationship can pay future dividends.
- Business clients come with many opportunities for up selling. Most of the time it is a win-win for both of you.
- It can be difficult to find new, quality leads. For most existing businesses, they already have a sign company they trust. After-all, they had to get their original signs somewhere, right?
- Business owners tend to be savvy, with high expectations and a strong sense of what is an appropriate price for your service. Don’t be surprised or offended if they get multiple bids and negotiate price before accepting your offer.
Business to Customer–
Volume Sales - These principles are the same as with business to business bulk work, but you're going to find your customers in new places and have different offerings.
You're going to be selling things that retail customers want to buy. This includes unique t-shirts, tumblers, coffee mugs, or anything else you can come up with. The key is to have broad appeal, something you can produce a number of with the expectation that they will sell.
- Renting a space at an antique mall or craft fair. Remember to assess how much space you actually need, the price per square foot, and the commission your landlord is asking for.
- Become a vendor at local events. For example, my wife was a vendor at the Mutt Strut in Nashville, Tennessee this year.
- Find space in popup shops
- Find seasonal events in your town that offer cheap or free retail space, like a farmer's market or holiday fair.
- Pass out business cards to local shops where you imagine your products may sell well.
- Your creativity will be the driver of your sales. If you come up with a clever idea with mass or niche appeal, and you are in the right place to offer it, you will reap the rewards. Also, you get to determine what media and medium you work in. T-shirts, mugs, or anything else, the choice is yours.
- You'll need a retail space to offer your items. The spots with higher foot traffic will be more expensive, but foot traffic doesn't necessarily equal sales.
- To be successful, you'll need to be willing to experiment with different locations and product offerings.
Custom Work –
- Unique t-shirts for a bridal shower
- Wall decals with unique quotes and family names
- Monograms for wine glasses or car decals
- Custom work for local customers has the lowest startup cost of any of these strategies. If you can find a reliable vendor who offers materials in small batches, you can defer investing in vinyl until you secure a project.
- You can also do all of your work from home, avoiding the need to invest in a retail front or work space.
- You're going to be able to charge a premium for your work. Retail customers pay the highest prices, and your design customization will raise the price too.
- Again, leads are going to be difficult to get. At the beginning, word of mouth may be the only tool you have. You're going to need to focus on quality workmanship and affordable pricing to get your initial sales. If you have a bit of money, you can kick start the process by marketing with a local Facebook ad.
Focusing on online selling requires a higher technical knowledge base, but, as I can attest, you don’t have to be a programmer to make it work. You can make money with vinyl online by providing quality custom work, becoming an information hub, or providing bulk offerings. Again, it’s not advisable to try to do all three.
Your time is best spent working in one of the three options to begin. So, if you decide to provide custom work, don't also try to become an information hub at the same time. After establishing your initial footing, and getting profitable sales, you can plan on how to use that money for growing into the other categories.
Custom Work – This is how I got my start. For the right person, I truly believe this is a great way to kickoff your Silhouette or Cricut vinyl business.
Increasingly, people are turning to a Google search to find custom work. Through existing marketplaces or your own site, you can become the one they turn to.
- Existing websites that allow you to sell custom design services. Etsy, Amazon Custom, and Amazon Handmade are the most well-known. Other options include Artfire, DaWanda, Bonanza, Depop, and Tictail
- Another option is to launch your own site. A great example of this can be seen with A Great Impression. They launched an inspirational wall decal site, along with a custom design service. You can get any decal, in any size you want from them.
Tip: I would recommend their strategy. Find a niche small enough you can compete within, and offer custom designs from there.
- If you sell on an existing platform, the startup costs are very low. The moment you launch, you’re competing in the global marketplace.You have access to millions of potential customers.
- Additionally, unique designs will allow you to charge a premium rate. However, online custom prices tend to be lower than the same work done locally. It’s a chance to polish up and increase your design skill set as well.
- Access to the entire world also means you are competing against anyone with an internet connection. Increased competition will lead to lower prices for your designs and difficulty landing jobs if you aren't competitively priced or offering a unique design perspective.
- Selling online means you also need to learn logistics. You’re going to need to get keyed in with a shipping company, figure out packing material, and factor that cost into your pricing.
Volume Sales – The benefits of doing work in bulk online are the same as local. By doing more work at once and reducing the number of times we make switches between colors, designs, and product lines, you're driving the cost per unit produced down. You'll find your customers through existing websites or by developing your own.
- The biggest platforms for bulk design work are eBay and Amazon, although Etsy has seen growth in these kinds of sales over the last three years. On these platforms, you can sell window decals, inspirational sayings, wall dots, car decals, t-shirts, etc. Basically, anything with a high demand that you can reproduce a number of times after the initial design.
- Another option is to choose a niche and offer the same type of work on your own website. Polka Dot Decals is a great example of this tactic. They are a small company that specializes in wall dots only, nothing else. They are the authority when it comes to polka dot decals. Because it is niche and repeatable, the work can be done in bulk and they face minimal competition.
- You can start to build a real retail business selling this kind of work. Over time, you will be able to determine what the demand for the designs you offer, and plan production ahead accordingly. This will increase your efficiency and lower the time you have to spend making products.
- You’ll also be making more products. Granted, you will be bringing in less money per sale, but this will give you the chance to buy vinyl in bulk for a decreased price.
- You’re going up against the world here. There’s a ton of competition, so the margins are going to be lower, and there’s a chance that someone can undercut your small margins with fake or counterfeit items at any point.
- It’s takes significant platform knowledge to sell on all of the different marketplaces (eBay, Amazon, Etsy, etc.).
Information Hub – Have you ever visited a blog for advice on how to use your machine or project inspiration? If you can launch a site and become the authority in the field, there’s an opportunity to make money with your Silhouette Cameo or Cricut there too.
Examples - There are some great examples of blogs offering technical know-how and project inspiration with a craft cutter. Some also couple their Cricut and Silhouette knowledge with a lifestyle blog.
- Joy’s Life
- Just a Girl and Her Blog
- Cutting for Business
- Ginger Snap Crafts
- Lia Griffith
- Salty Canary
- You’re not making decals for customers anymore, your projects follow your timeline. This means you get to be selective about the posts you take on, and the time you invest into a project. Also, you can express your creativity however you’d like and build the audience you want.
- Let’s reiterate, you’re not making decals for customers anymore. This business model is completely different than the rest of the options I’ve laid out.
- You can monetize your website with ads, sponsored posts, offering a knowledge product like a book for your dedicated readers, or a physical product. However, no matter which route you take, it’s not as direct, nor simple, as selling a decal.
What Are You Waiting For?
Starting by choosing a business strategy might be unashamedly old school, but I’m sure you can see why it’s the foundation for your future success.
By carving a few hours to think about where you can you are best positioned, you’ll instantly set yourself apart from most of your competitors. You’ll know who your customers are, what kind of things you can sell them, and the pitfalls to avoid.
The next step is to score that first sale.